A Public Defender Efficacy Study
The results of a study of Denver's felony criminal convictions have been published. Denver District Judge Morris Hoffman explains in a New York Times op-ed today, Free-Market Justice.
When two economists from Emory University, Paul Rubin and Joanna Shepherd, agreed last year to collaborate with me on an econometric study of how effective public defenders really are, I had to guard against confirmation bias. I was positive that public defenders would prove more effective than their private counterparts. Mr. Rubin and Ms. Shepherd, with their occupational faith in markets, were equally positive of just the opposite. In the end, the economists were right, though with an interesting twist. (The full study has been published in the Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law.)
....The results were surprising. The average sentence for clients of public defenders was almost three years longer than the average for clients of private lawyers.
In trying to understand the study, I found myself confused by the "variables" selected and omitted for the study -- and I'm still trying to figure out why the study concludes that those they chose measure "effectiveness."
The study excluded people who received probation.
The study also excluded acquittals at trial and considered only those who received prison sentences.
I would think that when a lawyer achieves a result of probation or acquittal for a client charged with a serious felony, that's an indicator of effectiveness.
The study apparently didn't consider death penalty cases and count as effective those public defenders who succeeded in getting a life verdict or less.
It also contains a suspect supposition: that defendants of low means are more apt to break the family piggy bank to hire private lawyers when they are both facing serious time and innocent.
I'm not a statistician, so I can't parse the variables for you, but I'm not putting much stock in this study.
Public defenders (and I have never been one) -- particularly in Denver -- are exceedingly well trained and provide excellent representation -- for lower pay and little glory. This study makes no sense to me.
On a related issue, the winners of the 2006 Public Defender Blog Awards have been announced.
Update: It appears I may have misinterpreted the New York Times op-ed. I thought when it stated acquittals and probation counted for zero, it meant for nothing, as in they didn't count. A commenter below points out zero meant zero days and they were counted in the equation.
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